The War Being Waged
Streamed by Winnipeg Manitoba's Prairie Theatre Exchange
This month, Prairie Theatre Exchange is offering an online production of Darla Contois’ potent drama ‘The War Being Waged.’ It is a searing portrait of indigenous issues that have become even more highlighted in recent months. Sovereignty, suicide, missing women, intergenerational conflict and connections are major themes told through the lives of two women connected by blood and tragedy. The force of this production comes from the brilliant combination of colour, sound, narration, music and dance. Structured in three parts, we hear the narrative of the grandmother and the over-riding tragedy, the link with her grand-daughter, and the grand-daughter’s own voyage through pain.
The grandmother, played with cool understatement by Tracey Nepinak, traces for us her family roots and relationships. Some of the voice over is supplied by Tantoo Cardinal. Her brothers are, interestingly, never named and the older is a severe bully while her other brother is supportive but to a limited degree. She speaks calmly with a neutral expression, allowing the words and her eyes to express the pain of a lonely childhood and then the events leading to tragedy. Camera angles are tight close-ups or regal medium shots giving her a sense of dignity – only limited shots of her nervous hands belie her shame. She speaks of much injustice in her family and her country – moving to Toronto and getting a liberal education further divides her from a family of limited motivation.
The irony of the tragedy is that her brother joins the Canadian forces – an institution that supports only “Canadian” interests. This sets up the family crisis and the grandmother is incarcerated and divided from her family. The pain is echoed as she sheds a beautiful traditional shawl which is enclosed in a transparent box and she is left in her prison garb.
The grand-daughter, Lillian (the only named character) is played by multi-talented Emily Solstice Tait. As a dancer, we leave the written narrative and movement becomes the emotional force. Lillian moves through a series of glass walls, manipulating them trying to connect with her grandmother. The connections come close, but are agonizingly difficult.
The third section is all Solstice Tait. Her brilliant dance at times is balletic fluidity as she is calmed and then transitions into staccato rhythm that climaxes with grand mal-like seizures as the emotion becomes severe. Her startling eyes communicate as her hands then seamlessly follow her eyes. Like the walls and the box, the stage is transparent plexiglass giving us the image of Lillian dancing above the earth, seeing all, but still separated.
This set design, and the lighting and costumes were developed by Andy Moro, and, as mentioned earlier, were a large part of the force of the play, along with MJ Dandeneau’s composition and sound design. Flashes of red in the make-up, costumes and lighting suggest her reflection that “my blood is yours.” Soft and harsh strobes of light constantly reflect snow, water and fire. Strong greens and yellows offer the basic indigenous connections with nature. Dandeneau’s music can be raucously percussive and then transition into some elegant piano and violin while Lillian calms herself toward some reconciliation with her past.
The technical brilliance is almost poetic and it enhances the tragic issues expressed by playwright and actor. As the grandmother is engaged at university, she tells us that “the truth broke my heart.” The audience (one would hope) is left with the understanding that awareness and action are both necessary.
The War Being Waged’ by Darla Contois
Performers: Tracey Nepinak, Emily Solstice Tait, Tantoo Cardinal
Direction: Thomas Morgan Jones
Set, Lights, Costume design: Andy Moro
Composer, Sound design: MJ Dandeneau
Choreography: Jera Wolfe
Prairie Theatre Exchange: Runs through December 12, 2021 online.